The young President’s BBQ!
This morning, dear reader, I feel like remembering the good ol’ days. A time when we would organize a lunch at the sugar shack for our family of coworkers at the head office. I still remember the 30 checkered shirts, snow boots and heads capped with red tuques laughing and singing like kids on a school trip.
The two-and-half-hour activity felt like a day of great celebration. We sang songs at the top of our voices in the yellow bus, laughter ringing from the windows framing the big kids inside, as clever, tall Paul, the master of ceremonies, beat out the rhythm with his walking cane. How good it was to forget the weight of our responsibilities for just a few hours, so wonderful to imagine the feast that awaited us on the sugar shack’s tables, made even more lavish with slices of maple pie and small crêpes.
If you’ve ever gone to a sugar shack, you may have noticed that the thickly sliced ham always tastes better. You help yourself to two or three servings of baked beans, slather homemade cretons on pieces of bread with lots of mustard. You devour the pea soup and are quick to ask for another 3-inch-high omelette with another side of pork rinds cooked crisp and curly in hot oil. The pickles pass muster, but I prefer onions marinated in vinegar. I even tried to make some at home with an old recipe from Quebec’s south shore region. The result paled in comparison.
At the sugar shack, the maple syrup is plentiful, the coffee is good and the maple taffy on snow at the end is the final treat that puts us into a silent state of contentedness. I truly love everything on the sugar shack table. Even if we need to travel deep into the woods and sit down with people we’ve never seen before. Even if the lively rigadoon music leaves us dizzy, and even if we have to wait our turn to be served by the owners and their family members who are run off their feet.
The raucous laughter from our large tables could be heard throughout the room, but it was impossible to hold back. Everyone was so happy that they stretched out the feast, indulging in yet another coffee and yet another slice of maple pie. And the young President invited them all to dance in the snow afterwards to help digest the lard and syrup.
The sugar shack is not your regular restaurant fare. It’s a grand outing, a fun and exotic adventure that is enticing precisely because it is not something you can do every day. You have to go during the season, when the syrup is running and the boiling golden liquid can be poured over natural snow. That’s what makes the visit to the shack so special for our coworkers.
As restaurateurs ourselves, we are used to putting several spring specialties on the menu to tempt the taste buds of maple syrup lovers – delicious, generous and satisfying dishes skilfully prepared. We know full well, however, that they can never replace the festive atmosphere of the sugar shack, with maple taffy on the snow and the table of strangers with whom we cheerfully exchange pleasantries.
Our lives have been disrupted right along with our work hours and business hours. But we must adapt and learn to “LOVE WHAT IS.”
Sugar shacks will probably be closed this spring and I wonder what maple producers will do with their syrup during this infernal pandemic. Will their golden liquid be used to only make mosquitoes tipsy or put earthworms to sleep?
The head office team has grown as we’ve opened more and more restaurants across the country, and we’ve had to diversify our group activities: an employee golf tournament, a bowling competition, a morning rock-climbing session, a treasure hunt in our local town, a yearly Christmas dinner gala and a huge BBQ in the company’s parking lot to welcome summer’s arrival. For the young President, the latter event is an opportunity to delight his coworkers with a selection of choice meats, big scallops and jumbo shrimp, accompanied by grilled vegetable plates, several big bowls of Caesar salad, different kinds of artisanal marinades and mustards, and of course, bottles of red wine and a few whites.
Then before dessert is served, the Vice-President takes a moment to recognize employees’ service with gifts based on their number of years with the company, celebrate achievements and highlight company promotions or transfers from other provinces.
The BBQ ends on a joyous note when the ice cream cart arrives. Everyone chooses a flavour, a small bowl and one or several toppings: coconut, salted caramel, milk chocolate or strawberry sauce.
I must say, the company’s head office offers a dream work environment for all staff.
We are a large “small enterprise” that is committed to preserving the warm family atmosphere that has been at the heart of the Cora experience from the beginning.
And I’m just a tiny bit proud that the President’s BBQ has always been held when possible on my birthday (May 27), which happens to also be the anniversary of the first small Cora diner.